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Lebanese and Israeli editorialists’ views of the U.S. role

COMMENTARY | August 07, 2006

Bush is part of the problem, Lebanese say; Some Israelis see their country as a proxy in a U.S.-Iran standoff.

By John Burke

As the UN debates the American-French resolution for a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah, Lebanese and Israeli publications sounded off on the conflict. The way in which they portray the role of the United States differs significantly.

The Lebanese English-language Daily Star recognizes that it was Israel’s decision to pour over its border and conduct bombing raids, but many of the paper’s editorials emphasize the considerable influence that Washington has over Tel Aviv and ultimately blame the world’s only superpower for allowing clashes to have progressed as far as they have.

On the other hand, most editorials in the Israeli English-language press generally tend to steer away from emphasizing or even mentioning U.S. influence, sticking to championing the Israeli state or critiquing their own government and occasionally expressing sympathy for innocent Lebanese and Israeli civilians.

Traditional Israeli publications regularly refer to Syrian and Iranian backing of Hezbollah. But an Internet publication of the Hebrew state, Debkafile, took the next step by tying fears of more direct Syrian and Iranian involvement to Washington.

The Lebanon Daily Star

“In Lebanon, Bush is really part of the problem,” opines this Lebanon Daily Star columnist. “The U.S. may make it seem like it is striving  for the quickest solution to the conflict, but in reality, Washington is the main impediment to a ceasefire:

“We are presently witnessing in Lebanon the third humanitarian disaster in which US President George W. Bush has had a direct or indirect hand. In Iraq over 50,000 are dead and dying thanks to Bush's decision to invade and occupy the country in 2003, without a sufficient number of troops necessary to secure the country. In New Orleans, the administration's incompetent preparation and slow response exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. And now hundreds of innocent people are dying in a war in Lebanon that could be stopped by the international community if it were not handcuffed by the Bush administration…

“The United States has so far achieved only two things since the Lebanese conflict began on July 12…

“One, it has acted to ensure that no effort by the international community would succeed in stopping the mayhem in Lebanon. Three times the U.S. has subverted the processes of peace, at the United Nations, at the Group of Eight summit and at the Rome conference.

“Two, even during the conflict, instead of working toward peace, (the U.S. is) arming one side with rockets and powerful bombs which, in the words of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, are "cutting Lebanon to pieces." (The Americans) are even smuggling these weapons through Britain, somewhat like Iran smuggling weapons to Hizbullah via Syria. Unlike Syria, however, Britain is protesting.

“The administration claims that the Rome conference helped build a consensus for an international force to prevent future crisis. For those of us familiar with the history of the conflict, we know that it was only because of Israeli and American opposition that there is no real international force already in the area capable of policing the borders and keeping all parties peaceful. What U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice means by consensus is that finally Washington has agreed with the rest of the world on one issue involving Israel.

“This strategy of American foreign policy to arm, encourage and support extended and open-ended Israeli military action… will fail miserably in realizing its goals. By the time the Israelis finish in Lebanon it will be a pile of debris with perhaps 1,000 innocent civilians dead and over 1 million homeless and displaced. All other major U.S. goals in the region - democracy promotion, support for moderates, winning hearts and minds, undermining support for  radicalism - will also be buried under the debris…

“The U.S. up to now has said it will not talk to Syria or Iran because they are "part of the problem." From the steps taken so far, it is not clear to me that American foreign policy is part of the solution…

“American foreign policy is in wrong hands and is heading in the wrong direction. It is not in the interest of global peace, not good for America's many interests in the Middle East and will not make Israel safer.

“With great power comes great responsibility. As the sole superpower, the U.S. has responsibility to maintain the global order and nurture the international system, not become a destabilizing force. American foreign policy is a global public good and by acting in a highly partisan and shortsighted fashion in the current Arab-Israeli conflict (it is) abdicating (its) status as a global leader.”

According to this columnist from the Daily Star, because of the policies of its current administration, the United States has lost most of the influence it had in the Middle East, which bodes well for achieving an international solution to the most recent regional crisis:

“U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice changed her hairstyle just before her trip to the Middle East last week… Unfortunately, she did not similarly change her country's foreign policy in the region, particularly with respect to the current Lebanon-Israel conflict…

“Fortunately, though, the Bush administration, for all its power and boastful posturing, cannot long dictate the turn of events on the battlefield or in the diplomacy at the United Nations that seeks to end the fighting. Rice came to the Middle East last week feeling something like an all-powerful sultan. It turned out, in fact, that she was more like the eunuch of the realm - because the US, through its all-out alignment with Israel, has effectively castrated itself diplomatically. Like the eunuchs of old - during this moment and in this conflict at least - it has power, but not much impact; and presence but not much consequence…

“Speaking peace while making war is not a sustainable policy. This is why the steadfast alliance between the U.S., Israel and the United Kingdom's Tony Blair on his more incoherent days now finds itself so badly isolated diplomatically in the world.”

In “One day in the life of Bush-Blair democratization,” a Daily Star columnist lists the horrors that occurred throughout the Middle East during one twenty-four hour period. With these facts as support, he reasserts his favorable opinion of the ideology behind U.S. policy in the Middle East, but complains that the practice is all wrong:

“As I listened carefully to U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair during the past week, Israeli bombs were dropping all around us near Beirut and other parts of Lebanon. I was becoming slightly concerned that their enthusiastic plans for my freedom and democracy in the Middle East were becoming incongruously riddled with wars, private militias, terror plagues, and crumbling societies. Then when I learned that the American secretaries of state and defense had agreed to help train Lebanon's army - I really got worried…

“Their ’forward strategy of freedom’ approach has mostly been a calamity to date. The last thing we need is a new chapter in its growing book of horrors.

“I should add that I also agree with the Bush-Blair concept of promoting freedom and democracy in the Middle East, which I and many others here have devoted most of our adult lives trying to achieve. Yet their militaristic, aggressive approach that is umbilically linked to Israeli priorities is proving to be messy and counterproductive. Instead of promoting free and democratic societies that are peace-loving and prosperous, Bush and Blair are midwives to the birth of new failed states, narco-states, militia-based statelets, and terror havens…

“Yet Anglo-American policies seem only to perpetuate new forms of violence, corruption and mass suffering.

“Perhaps it is time to acknowledge that traditional autocratic Middle East governance systems and the Anglo-Americans' militarily installed instant freedom antidote both are unattractive options for the vast majority of decent human beings in the Middle East…

“More Anglo-American plans to train more Arab armies are likely to make the problem worse, not better.”

Another Star editorial blames American neo-con foreign policy for the spike in anti-American sentiment in the region, saying that in Lebanon, the U.S. and Israel are merely “Fools rush(ing) into another quagmire”:

“Already the siege of Lebanon, which has been billed as another battle in the "war on terrorism," seems reminiscent of the war on Iraq, where a foreign army marched in with no concrete plan to restore peace and stability. Instead of having a basis in careful planning, the war on Lebanon seems to be built upon the grandiose schemes outlined in 1996 by a group of US foreign policy hawks in a paper titled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm." 

That strategy paper advocated the abandonment of the Arab-Israeli peace process and overthrowing regional regimes, including that of Saddam Hussein. Following this line of thinking, the current war-mongering US administration has made a clean break from the honorable American tradition of promoting peace and has openly embraced the path of destruction…

“And far from crushing any enemies, the war is quickly turning the entire Middle East into a cauldron of anti-American and anti-Israeli militancy.”

Just as most of the international sphere pleaded for negotiations between Washington and Tehran concerning Iraq and Iranian nuclear ambitions, this Star column encourages similar talks concerning Lebanon, primarily because it is Tehran, not Damascus, which has the more influence over Hezbollah and in Iraq:

“On the surface, nothing suggests the Bush administration welcomes (talks between France and Iran), or that Iran will deal with Lebanon's predicament responsibly. The Israeli onslaught in Lebanon is an American effort to clip Iran's wings, while (Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr) Mottaki's "reservations" about (Lebanese) Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's peace plan suggest the Iranians are willing to cause trouble…

“Whatever Washington's anxieties today, it would be a mistake to ignore contacts with Tehran. The French are providing a useful service, and if they are doing so mainly for their own purposes, it also makes sense for the Bush administration to use this to explore ways to open a channel of its own. The United States has dealt with Iran in Afghanistan, and announced it would do so in Iraq; it makes no sense to disregard such a process in Lebanon, where Iran's writ is far more significant than that of Syria, which, quite alarmingly, has been regarded by a growing number of American commentators, former officials, and hired pens as the key to resolving the Hizbullah impasse.

“Iran's interests are complex enough that there might be something to discuss with the US. Both countries are in competition in Iraq, but also have a vested interest in averting a civil war there.”

From Israel

The Israeli Internet-based investigative reporting publication, Debkafile, fears that the power Washington has over Israel in dealing with its regional neighbors and warns of an imminent conflict with Syria and Iran:

“A really quick, crushing victory over the Hizballah could be achieved by the landing of American forces in northern Lebanon – at the invitation of the Beirut government. Nasrallah’s forces could then be strangled between U.S. forces and the Israeli army coming up from the south.

“But this is not on the cards for the simple reason that America is willing to fight in Lebanon to the last Israeli soldier, just as Iran is ready to fight to the last Hizballah combatant. Israel must beware of being hustled into taking imprudent steps by the proxy contest between the Washington and Tehran.

“Above all, Israel must beware of being drawn into tailoring its arduous and dangerous campaign to the pressures of Washington’s disappointment (that the Israeli military was unable to quickly defeat Hezbullah). After four years in Iraq, U.S. forces know the score and understand the challenges besetting Israel…

“(The fact that) Rice appears to be granting the Israeli government and armed forces for bringing the war to a successful conclusion is also a boon for Tehran, Syria and Hizbullah. It gives them time to engineer a nasty surprise to greet the U.S. secretary’s second visit, hitting Israel at the very moment that the diplomats weigh in to start the process for ending hostilities. Israel will then be told to hold back on reprisals. This dead-end maneuver will be painfully familiar to the many peacemakers who tried their luck with the  Palestinians, notably Condoleezza Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell…

“Neither Damascus nor Tehran – and certainly not the Hizballah - have any intention of leaving the diplomatic initiative in the hands of the U.S. secretary of state. They will do their utmost to stay one step ahead of any American-led steps and keep Israeli forces from running away with a victory. The way events are going now, both the Americans and Israelis will soon be confronted with the necessity to cut both Syria and Iran down to size.”

For this Debkafile columnist, Israel is but a pawn in America’s standoff with Iran. Instead of merely eliminating the southern-Lebanese party to secure regional stability, “Bush wants the Hizballah-Israel War to Give Iran a Bloody Nose”:

“The Olmert government is eagerly exploiting this leisurely international climate to smash as much of Hizballah’s terror machine as he can before Washington holds up a stop sign... a clutch of would-be ceasefire brokers (has) descended on Beirut and Jerusalem. None came with Bush’s nod, so they will not get very far…

“(A) poker game between Tehran and Washington is going back and forth over the heads of Israel and Lebanon…

“The green light flashing in Washington may give Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert a latitude never before granted any Israeli premier. But it also tells the Islamic Republic that its rulers’ meddling in Iraq carries a high price tag. By pulverizing Iran’s surrogate, Israel is articulating America’s determination to smash Iran’s strength and positions of influence around the Middle East and the Persian Gulf…

“President Bush saw that if he looked away and let Iran’s challenge burst into full-blown action without responding, America’s standing in Iraq and the rest of the region would be forfeit. He was further stirred into a response by Tehran’s developing appetite for quick gains…

“(The kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers) was the last straw, but George W. Bush turned it around as a boomerang to hit Tehran. The Israeli Defense Forces, there to hand, were more than ready to punish Hizballah and had been raring to go after five years of forced restraint against the Lebanese group and Palestinian terrorists. For Bush, this course offered America the chance of a bold, efficient blow against a Shiite extremist terrorist group without a single American soldier having to step onto the battlefield.

“Therefore, Israel’s Operation Just Reward, which started out as a rescue operation for its two abducted soldiers, then a campaign to push Hizballah back from its border, within six days opened Lebanon up as a major arena for the showdown building up between the United States and Tehran over a whole bagful of issues - not least Iran’s nuclear defiance. However, the unacknowledged object of Israel’s campaign is none of the highly rational goals outlined by officials. It is to satisfy Washington that Tehran has been given a bloody nose and is ready to pull back from its deepening political, military and intelligence interference in Iraq.

“To this end, Bush decided to let the armed forces of the Jewish state strike out against a fundamentalist Islamic force.”

Jerusalem Post

“As Ahmadinejad watches,” The Jerusalem Post thinks that American suggestions that Israel cede some disputed territory need not be realized for the future security of the Jewish state’s territory:

“In her discussions with Israeli leaders, (Condoleezza) Rice has proposed that in the framework of a settlement of the current crisis, Israel give Mount Dov  on the Golan Heights to Lebanon. There has been almost no public debate about the reasonableness of the U.S. position. Yet even the most superficial analysis makes it clear that such a move would be catastrophic for Israel's long-term viability…

“Yet today, the U.S. is prodding Israel to give Mount Dov to Lebanon as a confidence-building gesture toward the Lebanese government, which of course supports Hezbullah's demand. By adopting this Hezbullah demand, the U.S. is breaching the decades-old foundation of the Law of Nations, which stipulates that states cannot win territory from other states through armed aggression.

“Additionally, by supporting Hezbullah's demand, the U.S. is in effect suing for a Hezbullah victory in this war. Hezbullah has never demanded Mount Dov for itself. It demands the vast territory that connects the Syrian Golan to the Upper Galilee for Lebanon. And the Lebanese government, which the U.S. seeks to strengthen, supports this Hezbullah demand just as it supports all of Hezbullah's demands. If Lebanon receives the territory, Hezbullah will be the clear victor in this war.

“Moreover, by even suggesting that Israel consider giving Mount Dov to Lebanon, the U.S. is undermining the very notion that Israel has a right to recognized borders….

“In short, by backing Lebanese claims to Mount Dov, the U.S. is paving the way for future territorial claims for West Jerusalem, the Galilee, Haifa, indeed for all of Israel.”

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